A thyroid nodule is usually discovered by a physician during a routine physical examination of the patient.
Sometimes a nodule is discovered by the patient.
At times, a thyroid nodule is discovered incidentally on an ultrasound or CT scan of the neck or chest done for some other reason.
Cancer vs. Benign
The biggest concern with a thyroid nodule is whether it is cancerous or benign.
Most thyroid nodules (more than 95%) are not cancerous.
However, a thyroid cancer may rarely be present in a thyroid nodule.
Factors that increase the likelihood of thyroid cancer are:
1. Older age.
2. Large size of the nodule.
3. Family history of thyroid cancer.
4. History of exposure to radiation to the head and neck area.
5. History of exposure to a nuclear reactor disaster; atomic bomb survivors.
A blood test for thyroid function should be carried out first. This test is normal in most cases and further testing will be necessary.
Occasionally, the thyroid function test may indicate that a person is hyperthyroid (overactive thyroid). In these cases, chances of thyroid cancer are extremely low.
An ultrasound guided Fine Needle Aspiration Biopsy (FNA) is the most practical way to evaluate a thyroid nodule.
This article was written by Sarfraz Zaidi, MD, FACE. Dr. Zaidi specializes in Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism.
Dr. Zaidi is a former assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at UCLA and Director of the Jamila Diabetes and Endocrine Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, California.
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